Skip to main content
first person
Open this photo in gallery:

Illustration by Drew Shannon

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

We all do it. Come on, admit it. You regift. So do I. Those items lurking in the back of the cupboard that I haven’t yet found a use for really do have a purpose. They lurk because when I received them, I carefully put them away, knowing that the time would come, one day, when I would enjoy them. But they ended up waiting for so long that, at some point, I had to admit to myself that day might never arrive. Then an unexpected dinner invitation turned up or a birthday party (maybe not so unexpected, but squeezed in among a flurry of other events), and I wanted to bring the host a little something, and those lurkers suddenly became just the thing I needed. Their purpose became clear as part of my personal reduce/reuse/recycle program. Why rush out to the store when I can shop at home?

Over the years, while I’ve gotten bolder about regifting, I’ve also learned to choose my regifts and regiftees carefully. Here, dear reader, are a set of rules that I try to follow:

Rule No. 1 It goes without saying to never, ever, give the same gift back to the same person. Ever. In order to keep track, write down the name of the gifter and the date said gift was given. Maybe use a little black book or an Excel spreadsheet with each item carefully logged in. I’m not usually that organized and have to rely on my memory, which is probably why I have unwittingly broken my first, most sacred, rule of regifting. But then, if I’ve forgotten the provenance of the item, maybe the other person has, too? I live in hope.

Rule No. 2 The first rule does not apply to wine. Ever. No one will remember they gave you that exact bottle of wine. If it should happen, you can pretend it’s just a coincidence. Or, you could turn your faux pas into a compliment, something like: “The same wine you gave me?! Really! You were the one that introduced me to this fantastic wine? I love it so much, it’s the only red I drink now.” Smile ingratiatingly and inwardly groan as you make a note to self: must always give this exact brand of wine to this person. No other regifting options possible.

Rule No. 3 In desperation (as in, you’re already late for the party), if you’re not sure of the gift’s history, it can be repackaged with a few other items, tastefully wrapped in a nice little bag with tissue and ribbon, to look like something new. Absolutely acceptable window dressing.

Rule No. 4 (corollary to No. 3) Always keep decorative little gift bags, colourful tissue paper, ribbon, gift cards and scissors in or around the same location as potential regift items for those rushed moments. Efficiency is the key here – you don’t want to have to go running all over the house looking for ribbon when you’re late for the event. After all, the party is the point here, not your gift, right?

Rule No. 5 Be on the lookout for wayward gift tags from the person who gave you the gift. They are a dead giveaway if they have somehow gotten embedded in the depths of the plant you received, or on the folded-over gift tag on the neck of the wine bottle. Search diligently to remove all evidence.

Rule No. 6 Comestibles make excellent regift items. Everyone can use little jars of jam or mustard or paté. But always check the Best Before date. Always. Nothing screams regift like an expired item.

Rule No. 7 Christmas stockings are a free-for-all. The only decree our family holds immutable is that you can’t try to give the same item back to the person who gave it to you (restocking the stocking, as it were) in the same year. But if that person finds said item in their Christmas stocking next year, well, perfectly reasonable. And, hey, this is just family, so the rules of regifting are somewhat relaxed anyway. A sly “Did Santa Caroline find this in her stocking last year?” will suffice.

Rule No. 8 Whenever those charities call looking for clothing and household item donations, always say yes. Then go to the cupboard and be honest: Weed out the items you know you’re not going to use and you’re never going to regift, the ones that keep getting rejected in favour of the more interesting items. In this case, you might not know the end recipient, but you’ll enjoy the gratification that comes with donating something that somebody else might be able to use.

Rule No. 9 If for whatever reason you haven’t followed the above rules and you’re caught regifting, the correct response is to graciously smile and immediately launch into distraction compliment mode: the hostess or host’s choice of evening wear or musical selection. Quickly look around the room to see if there’s a new piece of furniture or set of curtains. Apology optional.

Oh, and if it should happen you’re on the receiving end of something you know you have given someone, the appropriate action is to give the gift back to that person. A friend and I continue to exchange a dish towel back and forth – sometimes it wraps a gift, sometimes it’s hidden inside a gift – and we get a laugh out of it every time.

Debra Scoffield lives in Toronto